Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's sixty-eighth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we're going back to another animated series from the glory days of Image Comics. Actually, this is possibly the most widely-known of the 1990s Image-inspired animated series.
May 16th, 1997 brought the debut of Todd McFarlane's Spawn, HBO's initial foray into adult animation. As evidenced by the title, McFarlane was heavily involved with this production. After rejecting other offers, McFarlane felt confident he could present his property the way it was meant to be seen on HBO. And, within the context of these times, it's important to remember Spawn was an undeniable "hot" property. McFarlane had some muscles to flex, and he wasn't shy about doing so.
While HBO's Spawn isn't a direct adaptation of the comics, it's darn close in places. Let's go back to the pilot, "The Burning Vision" and see how the comics influenced the story. Written by Alan McElroy, featuring animation from Ko-Ko Entertainment and Sheen Production, Spawn opens with an attention-grabbing pilot. The animation is solid, the voice acting is unique, and the story...well, it opens with two foul-mouthed mob assassins brutally murdering three men.
Okay, before we get there, we have to address the show's actual opening. It's Todd McFarlane himself, on a soundstage, inking some pages of Spawn before turning to camera. He then ruminates on the nature of evil, or life, or whatever cryptically deep thoughts allegedly fit the theme of the episode. Maybe it's silly in retrospect, but hey, it's Todd's show. Outside of Stan Lee, it's hard to imagine any comics pro who's successfully branded himself like Todd.
Anyway, back to the murders. The murdered men are reporters, receiving mysterious info from their source. The mobsters arrive, kill them, but soon meet their own fate at Spawn's hands. Spawn actually attempts to save their final victim, but due to his seeming incompetence, the guy's murdered anyway. And Spawn didn't come across as too eager to help out in the first place, striking some poses before slowly confronting the mobsters.
Charitably, we can guess Spawn's still out of it. Still disoriented after arriving here on Earth, following some vague deal with the devil. While HBO's Spawn opens with a voiceover from Cogliostro, Spawn's guide on Earth, the comic begins with Spawn's first-person narration. He gets into an "intro fight scene" there as well. This time, he stops a gang from assaulting a woman.
These two sequences sum up the difference between the show's first season and the comics. McFarlane has acknowledged he wasn't working with a concrete plan from issue to issue. It was more about drawing what moved him and introducing some cool ideas. The writing of the animated series is much tighter. Yes, the mobsters' scene is here to set the mood and establish Spawn's abilities. But it's not a random crime to be stopped; it's a critical piece of the show's season-long arc.